The details of Sri Aurobindo’s outer life are rather well-known and easy to search and find. But these outer details, informative though they are, do not tell us much about the person. They create an image, much like a mirror creates an image that captures the form but the essence, the soul escapes our discovery. It may be therefore useful to very briefly focus on the many-sided genius of Sri Aurobindo, known and revered as a yogi of yogis, revolutionary and poet, philosopher and saint, critic and writer, political thinker and the prophet-visionary who foresaw the coming of a New Race, the Supramental Race or a divine-humanity of the future evolving out of our animal-humanity. Indeed, Sri Aurobindo belongs to that rare type of humanity who defies any category and for whom the very word humanity becomes too small. In India he is revered as the yogi-seer who discovered the path of Integral Yoga that would lead man, the mental being, to a divine humanity in a not too distant future.
Born in Kolkata, India, on the 15th Aug 1872, Sri Aurobindo’s birth is like the much awaited Light amidst a world torn by strife and struggle, besieged by Asuric and dark propensities, where the only lamp of Reason was proving to be insufficient to light up man’s goal or give him a worthwhile cause to live. As if to experience the nadir of false glitters and artificial lamps, Sri Aurobindo spent his early years from the age of 7 until the age of 21, as a student at Manchester and Cambridge. Recognised for his brilliance and mastery of many languages he returned to India and enrolled himself as Secretary to the Baroda Estate. A preparatory period followed, during which Sri Aurobindo found himself entering the realm of spiritual experiences until the call to liberate his motherland, India, took hold of him, and he plunged in the Indian Independence Movement. Soon enough he became well-known as the spearhead of the Freedom movement, whose writings brought alive the very soul of India, inspiring and awakening the young and old to seek both political and spiritual freedom. The first freedom was necessary for India to resume her rightful place in the comity of nations. The second and more important freedom is needed for India to undertake the work she is destined to do for the future. He is known as one of the main leaders of the Indian Freedom Struggle who, in a short span of a few years had laid the broad lines along which India would gain its independence. Having done what he was destined to do, he withdrew from active politics, following an inner call, and plunged into a deep and intense tapasya, for the liberation of the human race from its slavery to ignorance. Thus he changed his role, enlarging the scope of his work from the leader of the freedom movement to being among the foremost leader of humanity.
Little can be said about Sri Aurobindo’s life at Pondicherry. All that people know is that since his arrival at Pondicherry in 1910, he had completely withdrawn from public life and was engaged in what came to be later known as the Supramental Yoga. The aim of this yoga was to facilitate the descent of Supermind upon earth just as once the Mind-principle descended and awoke amidst our animal life full of vitality and force. Drawn by his Presence, a few disciples naturally gathered around him as a sample of aspiring and representative humanity.
Whatever little we know about him during this period is mainly through Sri Aurobindo’s conversations and letter exchanges with these disciples. But that is indeed very little to fathom his inner life. Of course one can get useful indications from his poems, especially Savitri since a poet creates what he has experienced within him. Yet just as the poet is always more than his poetry so too it is impossible for human consciousness, struggling with ignorance and using mental yardsticks, to measure someone who wrote:
I have wrapped the wide world in my wider self
And Time and Space my spirit’s seeing are.
I am the god and demon, ghost and elf,
I am the wind’s speed and the blazing star.
All Nature is the nursling of my care,
I am the struggle and the eternal rest;
The world’s joy thrilling runs through me, I bear
The sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.
I have learned a close identity with all,
Yet am by nothing bound that I become;
Carrying in me the universe’s call
I mount to my imperishable home.
I pass beyond Time and life on measureless wings,
Yet still am one with born and unborn things.
Sri Aurobindo is known in the field of literature and experimental poetry as the author of many beautiful poems including the crowning jewel Savitri, an epic-poem in English comprising of nearly 24000 lines. Savitri belongs to the rare genre of what is called in India as ‘mantric poetry’. Its’ theme is universal and its’ subject is nothing less than the Creator and His creation itself. As a poem it is the outpouring of revelations after revelations that help the readers to behold truths sublime and give hope and Light to our present humanity. Though Savitri has been the subject of much discussion, doctorate thesis and scholarly studies, it remains a mystery. Its words point to the eternal Source of all things and carry the reader on wings of beauty and delight to regions where knowledge sleeps in blissful silence in the very bosom of Love.
His prose writings however are numerous and include essays and articles, journals and letters, some of which have appeared in a book form. The subject of these writings cover almost every aspect of human existence as seen from the eye that scans the heights and depths of creation, shedding its light upon all things of this world and the worlds invisible even as the sun illumines all things around it. In fact when studied carefully, these writings throw invaluable insights on human nature. In dealing with the complex subject of creation and evolution, these writings lay down the broad foundation of a Future Science of Consciousness, even as it views the puzzle of human existence and the problem of human Unity in the light of Integral Yoga. His writings range from recovering the lost secret of the Vedas to the vision of a glorious future that humanity is destined to witness, after having crossed the perilous bridge of Time in the present moment. The width and scope of these writings, their style and substance has drawn admiration from leading thinkers and philosophers from the East and West including Raymond Piper, Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore to mention just a few.
It is these writings that have earned for Sri Aurobindo the title of a philosopher, especially after one of his monumental works, ‘The Life Divine’ was nominated for the Nobel Prize in late forties. However Sri Aurobindo himself did not much like the honorific, since in 1907, much before he came to Pondicherry and even while he was actively engaged in revolutionary politics of that time, he had achieved the rare experience of Nirvanic Silence. Whatever he wrote henceforth was written from that state of Silence, a transmission and expression of truths that lie hidden in the realms beyond the mind. Not only Nirvana but many rare spiritual experiences came crowding into his consciousness seeking shelter in his vast, still heart. These include the vision of Divine everywhere, the vacant Infinite, the vision of the World-Mother, the entry into the Parabrahman state, the descent of Krishna’s personality into his physical body prepared through years of silent tapasya, among others. The Vedanta and the Tantra were synthesised within his being that had realised identity with not only the still Self of the Supreme but also with the dynamic Power, the Shakti that weaves the dance of creation.
Sri Aurobindo had a natural mastery of English as well as many other languages, including French, Sanskrit, Latin and Greek. At the same time, practice of yoga gave him a natural mastery and an in-depth understanding of human nature. No wonder Sri Aurobindo is also known as being one of the greatest teachers of all times. His principles of education laid the foundations of a national education for India. However it has taken almost a century for his thoughts on Education to be accepted more generally, though an International Education Centre in his name exists in Pondicherry since more than sixty years. More remarkable however is Sri Aurobindo’s role as a teacher of the Integral Yoga. It is a study in its own right to see how Sri Aurobindo dealt with the issues, problems and various difficulties of a diverse humanity with unique solutions suited to each personality and taking into account human variations, rather than standardised and stock replies like patent medicines. At the same time one witnesses in these answers, on the one hand a total commitment to truth and, at the same time, respect for the individuality of each person and their uniqueness. A teacher who could impart the greatest truth while leaving each one free to follow his way is a rarity and wonder.
No wonder this is one of the many unique features of his Ashram at Pondicherry, India, where seekers come from diverse backgrounds and nationalities to practice the path of Integral Yoga. There are no rigid, fixed practices or narrow sectarian formulas, but a wide movement of our entire being towards the Divine. The seeking for the Divine is not for personal liberation but for the transformation of earth-nature, wherein each sadhaka becomes a representative of a cosmic possibility and difficulty. By opening himself to the Divine and the process of transformation he becomes a little laboratory for the divine alchemy. What he gains can then be easily replicated by universal nature in humanity at large. Thus, like Sri Aurobindo’s personality and in keeping with his central teaching that seeks for the good of all and not an isolated achievement, his yoga too assumes a universal character.
Many are the gifts of Sri Aurobindo for Earth and mankind, some visible and known, others, like his participation in the war in favour of the allies at an occult level or his work of bringing the Supermind down to earth, not easily understood or revealed only to the initiate into the mystery of Divine Birth and Divine Works. In fact even in his death, or the death of his outer body on the 5th Dec 1950, he left the stamp of divinity. His so-called ‘mortal body’ remained lit by an immortal pinkish-golden glow defying the laws of decay and death for nearly 111 hours. It was hard to say whether it was death of the body or the defeat and defiance of death that one witnessed in this event, that inspired spontaneous outpourings from many world-leaders as well as commoners alike. Of course Sri Aurobindo is not just a physical frame, a body perishable by the hours, but an immortal flame of Truth that burns in our silent depths. Sri Aurobindo’s inner being, his divine personality continues to command the forces of transformation and is ever engaged with hastening of earth’s glorious future which he has foreseen and for which he worked and struggled and suffered and strove.
However, as we have noted earlier, there is something about Sri Aurobindo that transcends all these works through which he is more commonly known. His complex and many-sided inner spiritual life, rich with experiences of the highest order is documented in his personal diary, now available as ‘Records of Yoga.’ One discovers there the rare combination of a scientific temperament with care for accuracy of details and rectitude in observation along with a profound mysticism that is to become a bridge between the world of material reality and the verities of the Spiritual realms. The scientist and the mystic were beautifully synthesised in his personality, even as the human and the superhuman paced close to each other.
Those who have come closer to him either physically or else inwardly, discover in his personality the magical fount of creation, the honeyed streams of life-giving delight, the Peace and the Certitude that come from contact with the centre and core of creation, the stability that even the flow and flux of Time cannot move, the Truth that transcends all formulas yet throws Itself into various moulds, the personality of a Godhead who plays with death and uses Time and Circumstance as his means and instruments. In discovering him we discover our own highest and deepest possibilities as if what we have always longed for, what the earth has aspired for since the earliest dawns of humanity had found a perfect expression and a divine fulfilment. In drawing closer to Sri Aurobindo we draw closer to the divinity that is hidden within us and within the secret heart of creation.